Melinda May/The Caval-Agent of Team SHIELD
When the elevators opened, the first thing Melinda noticed was the smell. The horrific scent of decay had already filled the inside of the elevator, but the actual lab was so much worse.
"Oh my god!" Melati reeled back, clutching at her nose. "Ugh! That smell, that taste!" she gagged, quickly reaching for her bag and pulling out a gas mask, pulling it on hurriedly.
"Is it really so strong?" Otto asked, not having nearly the same level of reaction.
"It is to me," Melati said, coughing as she finished putting on the mask. "My senses are stronger than yours."
May, in the meantime, stepped forward into the lab. She stared around at the area. "Not sure what I expected. But this is-" she paused. "Different."
The lab was once a white pristine place. But now it was like stepping into a ruined jungle temple. The glass windows surrounding each separate section of the lab had been shattered. Concrete had been ripped through by vines as thick as May's arms. The mold was growing across the floor, walls, and ceilings. There were bullet holes everywhere, smashed equipment, portions of the place had been blown apart by explosions, and dirt was tracked throughout the facility. It was as though the swamp and lab had melded together, all while a battle had taken place. Flies and other insects buzzed around the area.
The dead lay across the floor. Reduced to skeletons, they dotted the area around them. Many had vines wrapped around them. One had a small tree growing through it, separating the bones so that they hung off the branches like macabre Christmas decorations. The flies buzzed around the bodies, moving to surround May.
Otto stepped forward, waving his hands in a futile attempt to brush away the flies moving towards him as his face dripped sweat. "My god. There must be at least… thirteen bodies here?"
"It looks like-" May was cut off when Otto spun away, followed by the sound of his gagging, then the splash of liquid pouring out of his mouth.
"...That doesn't help the smell," Melati mumbled to herself.
"Hrrrrk!" Otto said in response. He stayed bent over like that, clutching at a wall with one hand. After a moment, he bent back up, still sweating, and pulled a wet wipe packet from his pocket, ripping it open with shaking fingers and wiping his lips. "I-I'm sorry," Otto stuttered, stepping away from the pile of brown-green liquid and solid he'd made. "I've never really seen so much d-death."
May didn't respond. No reason to dig at him for a natural human response.
"It's not that bad," Melati grumbled, stepping forward to place her backpack on a relatively clean section of floor.
"...Yes, it is," Otto took a deep breath, taking out a small baggie and tossing his wet wipe into it. "B-but there is something strange, I think. This amount of plant-life, in a lab that should be sterile. Bodies d-decayed to this extent," he took another deep breath, hand still shaking. "Melati, you're the expert in biology. Should these bodies be in such a condition?"
"Hmm," Melati walked up to one of the bodies, leaning down to look at it. "No. If this lab was sterile, there shouldn't have been enough bacteria to cause this. And the air is much too humid. It's as if something pushed the swamp into the lab…"
She looked around. "I mean, there's no accounting for what might have happened, but no laboratory worth their salt would have such an unclean facility that it would end up like this. Even the most destroyed labs don't end up with levels of vegetation as this, not in mere months."
May looked around at the lab. She tracked her eyes across the bullet holes, frowning. "Dr. Octavius. Can you try and pull up the footage from the labs' cameras?"
"Yes," Otto clenched his fist, the portly man gathering himself, and walked forward just a bit shakily, giving the bodies a bit of berth as he walked. "I'll see what has remained."
Otto walked towards the back, May keeping a close eye on him. As he pulled out a laptop and placed it on one of the more intact tables, Melati touched a hand to one of the plants. Her claws came just short of running across the vines, coming up to a flower. After a moment, she reached into a bag and pulled on a pair of specialized gloves.
"Strange… this plant does grow in swamps, but… not in the Florida Everglades," Melati mumbled. She took out a knife and sliced off a piece of the plant, placing it in a baggie. "And this growth. It's as though something here made the plants grow years faster in only a few months. I've seen some experimental fertilizer that causes growth like this."
"Similar to Swampfire?" May asked, idly tracing her eyes across the marks of battle, noting the positions of the corpses. Something about them…
"Not even close," Melati said with a smile at May before she turned back to study the flowers. "I still want to study that form, but this kind of growth is nowhere near that insane. It's more like, extremely high-quality soil, the sorts of stuff I've only seen in labs, was spread all over the place. Hell, this might even be better than that…" Melati trailed off, taking a portion of the mud and debris spread across the ground in random sections to place in more baggies.
"These computers are destroyed," Otto said, sounding frustrated. "I'll have to take the hard drives to the truck if we want to recover anything."
"You can't just hack them here?" Melati asked.
Otto scoffed. "I am not 'hacking' them. Skye is the hacker. I'm simply attempting to recover the data… also, I already have SHIELD's passwords for this data."
He reached for several tools and worked at the computers for a while, finally pulling out two large blocks. Putting them into a container, he walked towards the elevator at a brisk pace.
"Get that done as soon as possible," May said as Otto passed. He came to a stop and blinked, looking over at her.
"I will… but I sense some urgency in your tone that wasn't there before. What is it?" Otto asked.
May didn't mince words. "I've been marking the positions of the bodies, the direction of the bullet holes. There may have been a third force at play in this fight. Someone that made SHIELD and HYDRA stop fighting each other and start fighting them."
"That is very… ominous," Otto decided.
"It's just a theory, which is why we need the footage now," May said.
"I will recover it immediately then," Otto rushed to the elevator, the doors closing behind him. For the next few moments, things were quiet, then Melati and May's comms went online. "Okay, I am here. The hard drives will take a moment to boot up," Otto said in their ears.
"Good," May said. "Coulson, you read me?"
It was quiet for a moment before Coulson spoke. "Yeah. Just listening to a survivor," Melati and May shared a look of surprise. "She's telling her story. What do you have?"
"Possible footage of the incident," May answered.
"Perfect. We can fact check her story," Coulson said.
"You think she might be lying?" May asked.
"Let's just say she might not be entirely trustworthy, to be kind about it," Coulson said sarcastically.
"I have something," Otto said, his voice sounding triumphant. After a moment, he began to narrate the footage, Coulson marking where the survivor's story linked up.
January 12, 2014, the day of the Battle of the Triskelion
Within the lab under the Citrusville Swamp, Barbara stared at Steve Roger's face on the screen as he spoke, her eyes wide in horror. At first, when Captain America had said SHIELD had been infiltrated, she had the crazy thought that he was talking about her. About her deal with Hammer. Then he began to talk about HYDRA.
That old Nazi group? That HYDRA?
It sounded unbelievable. She looked over at Ted, who was staring at the screens in shock. The scientists and guards around the lab stared at each other, suspicion in their eyes.
Barbara spoke as Captain America said something about an app. "Ted, is he-"
Suddenly, Ted's phone vibrated, the sound somehow devastatingly loud. He looked at it.
His phone was shining bright green.
Other phones started to shine as well across the room. For a moment, as green light after green light shone, Barbara felt relief. Until red flashed. A loud sound came from out of nowhere. Barbara had no idea what had happened at first. Then another loud sound happened, red liquid splashing about. Some of it landed on Ted, who screamed in terror.
Barbara fell behind a desk. Her brain finally caught up for her to realize what the sounds that were echoing around them were gunshots.
She screamed, unable to help it when the sounds of glass breaking filled the air as well. Someone fell in front of her. A woman bleeding from her throat where she'd been shot. Jenny, a sweet lady who had always brought cookies in. Her phone was shining red. The HYDRA operative reached out towards Barbara, fear and pain in her eyes as she gaped at her. Her mouth let out a small gasp of noise, blood spilling from her to pour on the ground.
"Oh god," Barbara whispered desperately. "Oh go-"
The table next to her exploded, sending her flying back. Barbara screamed again as she landed on the floor, her ears ringing, vision black. For a moment, she couldn't comprehend anything. When her vision returned, it was cloudy. Someone reached down toward her, a hand grabbing her shoulder. She screamed as the hand pulled her up and dragged her away.
"Barbara, calm down!" the man pulling her yelled in her ear. "It's me!"
Ted. Ted was the one pulling her. Barbara clutched at him. Ted had always been strong for a scientist, but today he lifted her into his arms with incredible ease, running out of the room as fast as he could. More bullets rang out around them until he had pulled her into a back room. She realized that he was bleeding. He was also carrying some sort of silver briefcase under his other arm. They staggered down the hallway, running towards a door in the back.
"W-Where are we going?" Barbara spat out in pain. She felt blood pouring down her legs. She couldn't tell if it was hers or poor Jenny's.
"The back," Ted coughed, smoke in the air as he pulled her along. "We need to escape through the swamp!"
He stopped at a door in the back of the facility, hurriedly slapping his hand against the panel on the side. For a heart-stopping moment, the doors stayed shut, bullets flying around. Someone screamed behind Barbara. She looked behind her, at the bodies of those she knew dying or killing.
The doors slid open.
May 18, 2014
The doors slid open. May entered through them, following the path Barbara and Ted had taken. "What is this place, Doctor?" she asked Octavius.
"Well according to the files of Project Gladiator, that was, uh, the name of this project, the project lead, Dr. Wilma Calvin, discovered that the Florida Everglades had several conditions ripe for materials that could be used to replicate the serum. That back room is a garden of sorts," Otto said over the comms.
"I'll say," May said, staring with wide eyes at the sight before her.
The room was square, with glass cases all around, computers resting on the walls. In the center of the room was a pool of swamp water, apparently connected to the swamp outside.
Except every inch of the room was covered in plants. Even more thickly than in the other rooms. And almost all the plants were growing outward from the direction of the pool. It looked as though a garden from heaven had been grown in the center of the lab, flowers spread across the plants, some petals falling onto the pool.
Melati gasped as she entered after May. "God… this is just…"
Then she stopped speaking when she saw the bodies. Five spread out across the floor, three more slumped against the wall, all with plants growing over them.
"What happened here?" Melati said, looking around.
"I'm getting footage of the inside of that section," Otto said. "I have the moment when Mrs. Bannister and Dr. Sallis entered."
January 12, 2014, the day of the Battle of the Triskelion
Barbara stared at the lab around her until Ted finally pulled her in. "What is this place?"
"The garden," Ted gasped, pulling her forward towards the pool. "The water opens out into the swamp, just a few feet," he pulled her. "Just a few feet, Barbara. We can-"
Blood splashed Barbara's face as a gunshot filled the air. Ted gasped. Suddenly, he wasn't carrying her. Instead, the weight of the man came down on her. She stumbled, fell to her knees.
Ted stared at her. Her Ted, so big and strong, fell. His chest was red. That was strange, his shirt had been white. He looked so confused. Not cute confused, just as though he was… lost.
Then she realized what was happening. Ted landed in the pool, spraying water about as the briefcase in his hands fell open. Barbara heard a scream. Her throat felt raw and ripped when the scream kept getting louder. She reached out and grabbed at Ted, pulling at his lab coat. But he was sinking under the water.
"Ted!" Barbara tried to bring him close. He reached out for her. "Ted, please! Plea-" someone grabbed her from behind. "No!" Someone punched her in the face, sending her flying back. She barely got a glimpse of Ted finally sinking into the water. Pale blue chemicals soaked the water around him, the liquids coming from the briefcase he'd been carrying. Swamp water swirled over his lips as he gasped. The chemicals and swamp water filled his mouth. He looked so scared, as blood poured from his chest. Then he sank under the depths.
"No, no no no," Barbara whimpered. Someone punched her again.
"Goddamn it!" One of the men said. She blearily looked around, the pain in her face nearly blinding her. Three men, all wearing heavy gear, were staring at the water. One turned from it to grab her, pulling her up. "We lost the samples!"
"We just need to take the base," one of the other men growled. "We get the files, Dr. Calvin, we're set."
"What about her?" The man grabbing her smashed her in the back of the head with his fist.
"First, stop being a dick, Karl," another of the men said as Barbara fell to the ground. "Second, we don't need her. Kill her and be done with it."
"Fine, fine," Karl said. Barbara was pulled up, a pistol pressed to her forehead. "Ruin my-"
Five men rushed into the room, pointing guns at the men. "Down damn it!"
"Back off!" Karl manhandled Barbara, keeping the gun close to her. "Back off or she dies!"
"Damn it, Karl, I always knew you were an asshole!" one of the men shouted.
The men kept on shouting at each other. Barbara felt her arm get pulled back until it started to feel like it was breaking. She screamed.
The water from the pool exploded upwards. Everyone spun around, guns were raised.
They froze in fear at what they saw there. Rising from the pool, the being within screamed.
Barbara stared in horror. The creature was thrashing as it screamed, fingers clutching at the air. Liquid poured off of it. Its body looked… decayed. As though someone had taken a man, and poured acid over it. Ribs dripped swamp water into a cavity where the stomach should have been. Muscles, white and thick, ripped apart, melted, with a sick sucking sound. The smell of plants rotting, so familiar, seemed to fill the room with a physical presence. It looked like… like a dead man was rising from the swamp. The stuff of nightmares.
"...Te-" Barbara began to say.
"Open fire!" forgetting their fight, every soldier in the room started shooting. Bullets flew into the creature. They took chunks of it's ribs out, tore into its head and teeth, sending bits of brain, muscle, and bone into the air.
The creature stopped screaming. It stopped thrashing. The mouth it once had faded slowly away, swamp water flowing across it, covering the thing in muck. It's entire body was ripped apart. And still, it stood.
And before all of their eyes, as the bullets finally stopped and everyone began to reload, it started to move. At least, that's what it looked like at first. Like it was standing up or bending. Until Barbara realized vines were moving up from the swamp water. Bones dissolved, replaced with thick green cords of plant matter. Muscle snapped, tore, stripped itself, as mulch and mud moved up to replace them. It grew and grew until the creature stood at it's full height.
Someone screamed in fear. The creatures' eyes snapped open. Scarlet orbs burned in a green face, steaming in the light. It made no noise. Only stared. Then it moved forward with deceptive speed, grabbing one of the men by his face. The man struggled for long enough to fire his gun. Then he began to scream.
Steam rose from around the green fingers. Flesh bubbled and melted apart.
"AHHHHH! AHHH, AHHH!" the man squealed, babbling nonsensically. He grabbed at the creature, pulling and ripping at the plant monster, pieces of mulch and vines shredding apart. His fingers melted on contact with the creature, but he couldn't stop touching it, trying to escape.
It didn't matter. He continued to burn under the creatures' touch.
He died screaming. And as he did, the creature turned to the next person. The woman he grabbed desperately pulled out a knife and tried to slice it apart where it grabbed her arm. It didn't care. This thing, this monster. It just lifted her and boiled her with it's acid.
The soldiers tried to fight it. It didn't matter. It swiped a man's head clean off his shoulders, boiled another's face off and until the day she died, Barbara knew she'd remember the nightmare of a man's screams gurgling as his throat melted to mush. Seven people, dead in moments. Karl pulled back from Barbara. His grip slid off of her. The creature walked toward them. Karl began to shoot him. The creature grabbed Karl and lifted him skyward. Then, it pulled back, before slamming the man against the wall. The wall stood strong. The man, on the other hand, broke with a sound that was a combination of a crunch and a wet squelch that she'd never get out of her head. Karl gasped. The moment his mouth opened, the creature pressed his other hand to it. Karl's eyes widened. Muffled screams began, only to be replaced with the sound of hissing. Karl's throat began to melt from the inside as Barbara realized acid had poured into his mouth. His legs twitched, piss and melted flesh pouring down them. Slowly, he died.
Then the creature turned to her. It let go of Karl, letting him fall, then stalked towards her. Barbara tried to crawl backward, but it was soon upon her. It placed a hand on her face.
The pain that followed… it felt like she was burning and freezing all at once. She cried in horror, trying to pull back. The creature stared into her eyes.
And suddenly she just… she stopped. She would never be able to explain it. But she wasn't afraid anymore. Because one thought filled her then. Once she died. She'd be with Ted.
The creature's eyes glowed scarlet. Green lids slowly fell. Until it's eyes closed. And the pain stopped. Barbara gasped as relief suddenly flooded her mind. The creature leaned towards her, pressing his head to hers. The sensation of pain fading away made her cry. Then, suddenly, she was in water.
Barbara swam through filth for an unknown amount of time. Then, with a suddenness that shocked her, she was in the air again. In the swamp above the lab. She breathed in the swamp air for a long time, staring up at the sky.